GREENCASTLE -- It's never easy to go against the team who closed your season a year ago. Making matters worse, is when that team shut you out on your home field 53-0 in the first game of the tournament.
According to fourth year head coach Kyle Winkler, his squad, especially his upperclassmen, have taken a different approach to this season and he's looking for some special things.
"A lot of guys stepped up since the end of the school year throughout the summer," Winkler said. "The four captains came to as many things as they possibly could -- Matt Hall, Josh Burdette Donovan Scisney and Jordan Brinkman. They put a lot of heart in this summer -- more than I've seen in previous years, which is always encouraging.
"Those same guys, and the seniors, have really stepped it up and shown me that they are starting to see 'Hey, we're seniors now, we're in charge of this team and we've got to take it to the next level," he continued. "We can't just show up to practice, walk through the motions and then expect to compete on Friday night.' Now they're staying let's go out and win Friday night instead of hey, let's go out and play Friday night."
Winkler also said that it's not only is captains that are taking ownership of the team, but key underclassmen as well.
"We've got Rathal Moore, he's not a captain, he's a junior on the team, but he's a very vocal leader -- he's going to be one of our outstanding players this year as long as he keeps his head up and his nose in the right direction," Winkler said. "I see a lot of good things out of him.
"Zach Couse is much improved from last season. We're missing Josh Batchelor on the offensive line so we're going to be even better when he comes back. Kurt Davis, a senior, has really stepped it up.
"I'm impressed so far, as long as they keep it up," he added.
Winkler has always preached the importance of the weightroom and his team captains set a good tone this summer.
"We have a lot more attendance," Winkler said. "In June, we had an a.m. and p.m. sessions and some guys were coming above the minimum requirements, which is great. Still have trouble getting the freshmen here. Obviously it's the driving thing and still has some guys that have to work during the summer and just can't get it. They're trying to find the times to come in.
"As a coach, I can always see needs of improvement from the younger guys and a commitment to it once they get there that they have to go full speed and hit it hard. They can't just show up and walk around," Winkler said.
Instead of facing familiar week one foe Speedway, Cloverdale will take on Brown County to start the season, a matchup Winkler believes is a good one for the Clovers.
"From what I've heard, people tell me they look like West Vigo and Owen Valley," Winkler explained. "They're going to have big offensive linemen, they're going to have some skilled guys, but then those same guys will turn around and say they don't have the same speed as Speedway. Speedway has very fast, fast guys. Not just fast -- fast-fast guys and they had guys with a lot of athletic ability. And they have a quarterback that's trained by a former NFL quarterback, so that guys, all the years I've seen him, has been on the money all the time.
"How do you get your base defense ready for 14 different passing scenarios come week one?" Winkler asked. "Now this week, we're going to have to be able to stop an isolation play, be able to stop the sweep, play action passes and don't let anything go behind your heads."
Winkler also thinks the offense needs to take care of itself as should the defense.
"Offensively, we have to control the ball, we have to not fumble, turn the ball over, throw interceptions, because every time we do that, it basically gives other teams two more chances to score against us in my terms," he said. "If we do the small things right, not jumping off-sides, not turning the ball over, going until the whistle, I think it will be a very competitive game in my mind."